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How does COVID-19 contact tracing work in Nova Scotia?

When someone tests positive, public health officials launch a case investigation to try and determine how the individual got the virus and who they may have passed it on to
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Medical laboratory technologist Kendra MacDonald prepares Covid-19 sample at the QEII Health Sciences Centre’s Microbiology Lab in Halifax (Photo courtesy of Communications Nova Scotia)

When someone tests positive for COVID-19, public health officials launch a case investigation to try and determine how the individual got the virus and who they may have passed it on to.

The process is called contact tracing.

Cheryl MacNeil is a Nova Scotia Health Authority health protection manager.

"That initial case investigation is started by a public health nurse and it starts off with a phone call to that client," she told NEWS 95.7's The Sheldon MacLeod Show. 

"It's really a conversation, a non-judgemental and very empathetic approach that our nurses take," she added. "For many clients, this can be a scary experience, they can be quite fearful and not sure what to expect."

Nurses ask about travel history, who they live with, where they work or volunteer and what gatherings they attended.

"Basically we're looking back at a full 14 day exposure period where they may have potentially acquired the disease," MacNeil explained.

"And then we're looking at where they may have transmitted it. The transmission period we're looking at is that 48-hour window from when they either became symptomatic, or if they're asymptomatic, whenever their test was."

Each contact health officials identify will also get a phone call letting them know they've potentially been exposed. Those contacts go through a risk assessment and the nurses arrange for them to be tested.

The nurses will explain the need to self-isolate and help people work through any barriers they may face throughout that time.

"Simple things like food, access to that while we're asking them to stay at home," MacNeil explained. "We might work with the client to connect with local resources to make sure they get supports for food delivery."

If the person lives with others, they'll also be given recommendations to reduce the risk of passing the virus along to their housemates.

The nurses continue picking up the phone to do daily check-ins with all cases and contacts for 14 days.




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